Pat Morita played arguably the most iconic karate sensei in film history in The Karate Kid, but the role was almost given to his stunt double.
The late Pat Morita played the most iconic sensei in cinematic history with his role as Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid franchise. Despite his long-lasting legacy as the character, Morita almost wasn’t cast because producers and even Ralph Macchio didn’t take him seriously. Macchio revealed his uncertainty about how Morita would do in a dramatic film such as The Karate Kid,
Not only did Macchio doubt Morita’s capability, but also producers didn’t believe in him due to his previous comedic role as Arnold on Happy Days. Macchio discussed in the same conversation how one of the initial picks for the role of Mr. Miyagi was Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune. Unfortunately, Mifune’s lack of English skills proved a challenge. The producers also considered Morita’s stunt double Fumio Demura for the role, so why didn’t he jump at the huge opportunity?
In an interview, Morita revealed in his actual speaking voice that he had to audition five times to play Mr. Miyagi. Despite both the producers and Macchio’s skepticism, director John G. Avildsen maintained his faith in the actor and his ability to work well with Macchio. Macchio recalled the “magic” that happened to Vanity Fair when he and Morita sat down and read the script together. Avildsen’s decision to hire a comedic actor ultimately proved the producers wrong.
Unlike Jackie Chan, a stunt double was hired for many of Morita’s martial arts sequences, like when Mr. Miyagi protected Daniel from the Cobra Kai bullies at the school Halloween dance. Japanese karate master Fumio Demura — who even trained Bruce Lee — was deemed the man for the job. Demura acted as Morita’s stunt double for the first, third, and fourth Karate Kid movies. He was also a stuntman for Mortal Kombat, Demura’s involvement with The Karate Kid The franchise didn’t stop at stunts. He was actually the inspiration behind Mr. Miyagi.
Demura was initially offered the role of Mr. Miyagi before Morita, but like Mifune, he turned down the part due to his poor English (via The Daily Beast), While he couldn’t star in the films, the character of Mr. Miyagi was still created in his likeness. The 2015 documentary The Real Miyagi discussed Demura’s early life and his karate journey. According to Tameside Karate, Demura decided to learn karate after his doctor suggested it for treatment for the side effects of a severe tonsil infection. The documentary also revealed the similarities between Demura and Miyagi’s karate techniques and included footage with martial arts stars like Chuck Norris and Dolph Lundgren.
Demura and Morita developed a lifelong friendship through their time together in The Karate Kid movies. Their collaboration created arguably the best character to come out of the franchise. Miyagi’s legacy has continued throughout Cobra Kai, Miyagi would even be shocked to find out Daniel’s former bully, Johnny Lawrence, briefly teamed up with him to take down the true villain of The Karate Kid franchise — John Kreese. Viewers can’t wait to watch more callbacks to Morita’s forever iconic character in Season 5 on its premiere date of Sept. 9. What would the original The Karate Kid films even be without Morita ordering Macchio to do chores?